The Basics of Reading Medicine Labels


There are so many medicines out in the market today.  However, there is this one thing we forget to do:  that is to carefully read the label of the medicine that we are buying. Not only that, we usually throw away the inserts that come with the packaged medicine. Regardless if it’s prescription or over the counter, it is our responsibility to at least familiarize ourselves with what the contents of the drug that we’re taking. Here are some terms to remember when reading medicine labels and the package inserts:

Generic Name  defines generic name it as “a term referring to the chemical makeup of the drug rather than the advertised brand name under which the drug is sold”. An example of a generic name is Ibuprofen, a common pain reliever for women having menstrual pain. Usually products sold using a generic name only are sold cheaper than their branded counterparts. Even so, they are also effective even if they are sold without a brand name.

Brand Name

The website Scientific American defines brand name for drugs as “A brand-name drug product is originally discovered and developed by a pharmaceutical company. In order for the company to market and sell their product they must first gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by submitting a New Drug Application. In this documentation the company submits data to establish a drug’s clinical safety and efficacy.” The laws will vary country per country so it’s important to know the legal aspect of this. An example of  a brand of Ibuprofen is  Advil.


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The instructions for use are usually found at the back of the bottle, in the boxes where it came in, or the paper inserts. They will usually the following basic info such as:

Active Ingredient

This portion will list the contents of the drug to let you know what chemical is making the product work. says,”The “active ingredient” section lists the therapeutic substance or substances in an OTC medicine that make the medicine work.”


In some packaged inserts, this is listed under the word INDICATIONS. It will list the diseases or illnesses the drug is intended for.


In this part, it will give precautions or advice as to being careful when taking the drug. In some labels or packaged inserts, it will be listed under CONTRAINDICATIONS. It lists the limitations of the medicine such as:

A It will tell you who should not take the drug

B It will give you an advice to seek doctor’s advice if you have preexisting conditions. For example if you have certain illnesses such as kidney failure, thyroid problems and the like.


Directions gives a guide on how the drug is to be taken. It also list the dosages to be taken depending on the age of the person who is to take the medicine. It also gives the right way to take the drug if it’s by mouth or if it’s going to be inserted, or injected by a qualified medical practitioner like a doctor or a nurse.

Some will also include information on how the medicine is to be stored. Some will only last a few days if not placed inside a refrigerator. Some medicines need to be stored away from direct light, hence some are stored inside amber colored bottles.


Please also consider the shelf life of the medicine. All medicines have an expiry date that you must take note of. It’s important to check the date in order to ensure that the drug or medicine you’re taking is still new. Don’t take the medicine anymore if it’s already beyond its expiry date.

Practices will vary from country to country how you will be able to purchase medicines regardless if it’s prescription or over the counter. Nevertheless, it’s always  best to consult your trusted physician when in doubt.








Definition of Generic drug

Definition of Brand name from

How To Read a Drug Facts Label  article from



Sample photo of drug label at

Feature photo of medicine from